NPC fears added paperwork of ag worker reforms

John O'Connell/Capital Press Montana seed potato grower Dan Lake, vice president of environmental affairs with the National Potato Council, speaks June 25 in Sun Valley, Idaho, about proposed Environmental Protection Agency changes to the Agricultural Workers Protection Standard.

SUN VALLEY, Idaho — National Potato Council leaders worry proposed Environmental Protection Agency policy changes to improve agricultural worker safety would bury growers in paperwork while accomplishing little.

The public comment period on the first proposed changes in 20 years to the Agricultural Workers Protection Standard has been extended to Aug. 18. NPC leaders at the organization’s summer meeting June 25 in Sun Valley said they’re preparing public comments highlighting several concerns.

Dan Lake, a Ronan, Mont., seed grower and NPC’s vice president of environmental affairs, believes the proposed changes would undermine the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act, which already sets safe handling guidelines and re-entry intervals for farm chemical application.

New 25- to 100-foot no-entry buffer zones surrounding treated fields would be implemented, and warning signs would be made mandatory for the most toxic chemicals. Children under 16 would be barred from handling pesticides, with an exception for family members on farms wholly owned by the family. Mandatory farm worker training, now conducted every five years, would be required annually, and new training requirements would focus on preventing in-home chemical exposure. Testing of respirators would be required, as would record keeping of those tests. Farm employers must now simply make sure respirators fit and follow instructions of product labels.

Farm employers would also be expected to keep pesticide application records and farm training records for at least two years.

Lake said NPC considers aspects of the proposal to be “excessive, smothering or expensive.”

“I think our main issue right now with the way this is proposed is going to be the record keeping requirements,” Lake said. “It’s an awful, awful lot of extra paperwork.”

The rules would affect about 2 million U.S. farm workers. EPA officials say between 1,200 and 1,400 health cases involving exposure to pesticides are currently reported each year, and exposure is significantly underreported.

Lake points out that EPA’s estimated cost of implementing the standard is $62 million to $73 million, with projected benefits of reduced acute exposure estimated at $5 million to $14 million.

“It’s a solution that really just needs a problem to justify itself,” Lake said.

Washington State Potato Commission Executive Director Chris Voigt believes EPA greatly underestimated costs growers would incur to implement the proposed rule and believes buffer zones would create headaches for growers farming near homes.

Ryan Krabill, senior director of legislative and government affairs with NPC, emphasized to members that growers have ample opportunity to shape and revise the proposal.

“A consistent problem we’ve been facing with EPA is they’re not doing a very good job of incorporating best industry practices,” Krabill said. “I’ve gotten a ton of emails on this. The industry is very much engaged on this issue.”

Groups such as the Migrant Clinicians Network have voiced strong support for the reforms. United Farm Workers of America opposes the rules for doing too little to protect farm workers and would like to see mandatory blood testing for chemical applicators included.

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